With the recent news of ABC officially cancelling Marvel’s Agent Carter and passing on Marvel’s Most Wanted, it only seemed right to take inventory and discuss what it means going forward.
To be rather frank, these are two shows that had problems from the beginning. Agent Carter generated a lot of buzz before it aired, so much so that people like me quickly pinned it as the obvious sister show to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for years to come. But issues arose soon after the premiere aired. Ratings dropped substantially. That’s not to say that the show wasn’t good, but clearly not all the viewers stayed on board the whole way through. By the time the first season hit its finale, most of us had serious questions about whether or not ABC would renew it. As we know now, it did. This was a mistake.
Now hear me out. I reviewed the second season and I largely enjoyed it. But shows often don’t gain viewers during their runs. They gradually lose eyeballs and it’s up to the networks to decide each year if they’ve retained enough to warrant more seasons. It should have been evident to ABC that this would not happen. Furthermore, the way the first season was built made it perfect for it to be a mini-series, even if that wasn’t what was originally intended. The second season had a number of surprises but it copied the first quite a bit. One difference is the second season ended on a cliffhanger, and though I was originally on the fence about it, I think the cliffhanger will spur more discussions about the show for a long time. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. shouldn’t go out of its way to address it. Peggy’s (Hayley Atwell) story had a reasonable amount of closure, which is what matters most, so it’s probably best left unanswered.
As for Most Wanted, sorry to alienate more people, but it was a bad idea from the get-go. Bobbi (Adrianne Palicki) and Hunter (Nick Blood) are likable characters, for sure. I’d wager to say they’re among the most popular from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and it’s easy to see why. Their absence has been apparent through the lack of levity present since then. But Marvel overestimated their popularity. We’ll never know for sure, but I don’t believe the series would have done well. It doesn’t have “legs,” that is, the ability to generate years of stories that keep fans coming back for more. It was supposed to be about them hanging out with some rich adventurer or something and being on the run. That could be fun for a season, but a whole show? Maybe if one of them had superpowers more people would flock to it. But the rumor is that the pilot got mixed reviews. Fortunately, Bobbi and Hunter can always come back, though their farewell would be more poignant if they didn’t.
But ABC renewed Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., so we can all relax about that show, right? Well, for the moment, yes. But the fact of the matter is that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t have the best ratings. It’s not the sure renewal that the superhero shows on the CW are. It has a loyal fanbase but it lost a handful of viewers during season 1. Considering that the series didn’t really hit its stride until the second half of the season, that’s understandable; those first 10 or so episodes were rough. This means that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has to fight for renewal every year, including next year, which happens to be a critical one. Shows usually don’t start making money back until syndication, that is, reruns on another channel other than the original. Traditionally, the golden number for syndication for a broadcast show (a show on networks like CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and the CW) is 100 episodes. By the end of season 4, unless the season is cut midway through, S.H.I.E.L.D. will have 88 episodes, which is actually becoming the bare minimum for syndication. However, the show’s increasingly serialized nature makes it less appealing for this, as opposed to episodic procedurals and comedies. Still, it would mean a lot to cross 100, as it really is a benchmark for a successful series.
If you want that to happen, you have to support the show, which means watching it live on ABC whenever possible; how On Demand factors into Nielsen ratings is complicated. Marvel could actually support Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. too, even if it is pretty late to do so. Stars like Robert Downey, Jr. and Scarlett Johansson are super expensive to pay, so maybe Marvel could get one of the smaller name stars like Paul Bettany (Vision), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), or even Tom Holland (Spider-Man) to reprise their roles. I don’t know, maybe it would still cost too much. Maybe it’s a stupid idea. But it’s an idea. It would be much easier to throw a character like Fitz (Iain De Caestecker) or Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge), scientists who do scienc-y stuff, into the supporting cast of an upcoming movie. (Don’t expect Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to still be on when/if Inhumans hits theaters.)
This is all, of course, discounting the phenomenon of Netflix. I said that shows traditionally don’t start making money back until 100 episodes, but with Netflix, shows can earn extra revenue. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is on Netflix and Marvel has shows like Daredevil on there that are doing quite well. So does that mean Netflix could save Agent Carter, Most Wanted, or S.H.I.E.L.D. (if it gets cancelled)? Probably not. Marvel’s Netflix brand is supremely adult, unlike these three, which is one reason why having Netflix characters appear on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is perhaps an even longer shot than getting an Avenger on there, though it is possible. Plus, Hayley Atwell has already signed onto a new ABC show. Agent Carter and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. are much more likely to continue through comic books, the way Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Smallville have. As for Most Wanted, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. could always incorporate it into next season’s storyline. Don’t be surprised if that happens.
In conclusion, despite challenges ahead, I stress cautious optimism. We’re getting season 4 of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., at the very least. As for you, Marvel, I know you hang on every word I type, so feel free to follow my advice. Or not. The choice is yours.
Aaron Sarnecky is Pop-Break’s television editor and covers Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter, among other things. He is a graduate of Rowan University with a degree in television and film. He probably remembers that show you forgot existed. Follow him on Twitter: @AaronSarnecky